My last SotC post was in early November — and what a lot of change there has been since!
A number of review samples have crossed my desk, and more than a few personal purchases too, but it’s overall been a period of tremendous consolidation for me.
In short: more out than in
The last post had 37 pens, excluding the Spitfire that was on loan to me. Now I have cut my collection back to 19, and I’m contemplating a further trim to 16. (The three on the right in this shot are closest to the door.)
Well, I’m not counting in that total my four pocket pens, but even that is down from eight just a couple of months ago.
Take a deep breath
I’ve sold or am in the process of selling: two Sailor Pro Gears, Leonardo Furore Grande, Penlux Masterpiece Grande, Tibaldi Bononia, Gazing Far TM2, TWSBI Eco Horse and Cement, John Garnham JG6, Esterbrook JR, Mythic Prime and two Primary Manipulation pens, Onoto #8, Caran d’Ache Leman, Montblanc Rouge et Noir Coral, Montegrappa Extra, Scribo Tropea, Visconti Midnight in Florence, Galen Sport, and a couple of Schons at least.
And new since the last SotC in November, in and out were the ASC Studio, Visconti Lava Color, another John Garnham JG8, Cross Sauvage, Montegrappa Monte Grappa, Fine Writing Kuroshio, Desiderata BAMF, Lamy Studio, Staedtler Lignum, and probably several others I’ve forgotten.
Why are you selling all your pens?!
Now clearly these aren’t all terrible pens. So most of you are probably wondering whether I’m insane or going bankrupt. Mercifully, the truth is neither. (Well, maybe a little of the crazy…)
Truth is, I’ve been heading down this winding path of consolidation for some years now, and I’m more and more convinced that it’s the right thing for me.
Why bigger isn’t always better
I like choice, but I don’t like feeling overwhelmed by it.
I don’t like feeling guilty that I’ve left a good pen unused and dried up for months because I have 38 other pens on my desk instead, or that my very favourite pens are neglected in favour of new arrivals.
Nor do I like using a pen out of a sense of obligation just so it gets its due turn.
And, perhaps more sensibly, I don’t like to think about the sheer amount of cash tied up in pens when I have a library of 40.
How do you choose? With difficulty...
I plan my periodic purges not just based on the usual assessments of ‘is it a good pen’: aesthetics, comfort, practicality, writing performance, etc. I wouldn’t get far, because the inconvenient truth is that most of my pens are good. Now I’m mostly looking at the tiny things that disproportionately bother me.
Does it dry out when capped, even at all? Do I feel vaguely dissatisfied when I write with it? Do I find myself not reaching for it, for some reason I can’t yet pinpoint? Am I keeping it because I feel I should due to peer pressure, or because I genuinely want to?
On the other side of the coin, I’m thinking about which of the pens are not just good, but great, special, unique, can’t-live-without.
Asking and answering these questions well is hard and sometimes painful — certainly much harder than buying a new pen. I think we can all agree that buying new stuff is a dangerously addictive rush. It’s fun, even educational, but it leaves a hangover behind. That’s what I’m dealing with here.
Change is always messy and rarely perfect
I guess I should also note that when doing my filtering I’m not always sure that I’m making the right decisions, and I will probably end up with some regrets. But we all live with regrets, right?
And so far it’s going pretty well. It might surprise you that after selling more than 200 pens there are only a handful that I really miss, and I don’t exactly cry myself to sleep over them. They’re just objects, after all.
The tray of trusty tools
Perfect process or not, the result of waves of purges is is a tray of pens that I truly enjoy using, that ‘spark joy’, and that have never let me down or frustrated me — never broken my trust.
But most recently, in this month’s cull, I have started to apply another principle: Don’t keep two very similar pens.
It’s why I’m letting go of the Scribo Tropea and Visconti Midnight in Florence. They’re not bad pens by any measure, but (colour aside) I can get the same experience from the Scribo 3 and London Fog. Exceptions so far are the Lamy 2000 Bauhaus and Black Amber, for their very different materials, and the Montblanc Geometry and Martelé, for their very different nibs.
This is a bit of a U-turn for me, because I’d gathered quite a few pairs of pens over the years. What’s more natural than thinking “I love that pen, I should buy another”?
But the truth is that pens are like watches or pairs of shoes: you can only use one at a time. If my love for writing with the Visconti London Fog inspired me to get another Homo Sapiens, isn’t a bit perverse that doing so will actually cut the amount of time I spend with the London Fog?
So… did it work?
I’ve not had a collection this small for a long time, and I have to say I’m surprised by the effects. I’m finding myself reaching for my special pens — the London Fog, my Namiki — much more. They don’t get lost in the tray or ‘saved for best’ any longer. I’m almost rediscovering them.
The downside of course is that I have less ink variety to choose from, and less nib variety too. The two Sailor Pro Gears were my finest lines and I used them for to-do lists and document markups. Both are now gone.
So, what’s left?
Meet the crew
Montblanc 149: just an all-time great design. Superb bones, practical, and a wonderful writer with its architect-style EF nib. Flaws? None. Special qualities? Tons. Keeping this pen was never in doubt.
Pilot 823: what’s special here is the FA nib. The 823’s reputation as a comfortable workhorse is justified, and aside from being difficult to clean, it has few flaws. I haven’t spent as much time with it as I should, and slimming down the tray has allowed it to shine. When I hold it the long, sleek shape of the pen and that barbed, pointed nib makes it feel like a spear, quick and purposeful.
Montblanc Agatha Christie: probably my most expensive pen, and most sentimental. It’s a good writer, and easy to live with. But it earned its place for primarily emotional reasons. Read my review.
Pilot Murex: I kept the Murex for two reasons: first, it appeals to the designer and engineer I wish I’d been, and second, it’s the closest I’ve got to a truly zero-thought note taker. I wouldn’t say I love it, but I respect it enough to keep it. Read my review.
Montblanc Geometry: this is a true outlier in my collection, with its fat double-broad nib. My head tells me to sell it for a grand, but I can’t bring myself to do it. It has so much unique presence and sterile majesty. Read my review.
Montblanc Martelé: shockingly, the Martelé is now confirmed as discontinued — so I will definitely not be selling it! Aside from being absolutely drop-dead gorgeous, it’s a totally well-behaved everyday user. Read my review.
Smythson Viceroy Grand: this hunk of solid silver is both rustic and refined. The quality that sings out to me is balance: it’s a long, heavy pen that you can’t help but notice in the hand, but it’s not unwieldy. That gives it a unique writing experience.
Leonardo Cuspide: the Cuspide is one of my more recent acquisitions — it wasn’t in my November SotC — but it’s very close to being my favourite pen right now. Not only for its unique good looks, but its comfort in my hand, and the nib perfectly tuned by Appelboom’s resident nibmeister.
Visconti London Fog: another pen that this process has helped me rediscover. I have been enjoying it afresh, twirling the blue and grey colours and feeling the plush palladium ‘Dreamtouch’ nib. Read my review.
Scribo Write Here 3: although the resin is deep and chattoyant, and the section long and comfortable, the reason the Scribo earns a place in my tray is for its supercar-like flex nib. Read my review.
Lamy 2000 Bauhaus: another pen that there was no question of me selling (no matter how many times people approach me to ask). It has the loveliest EF nib and is a paragon of practicality. I just adore what this pen represents: it’s what the ideal future looked like in the 1960s, and I want to live there. Read my review.
Ystudio Portable: I am a gold-nib snob, I hate skinny pens and I don’t like the smell of copper. But this pen is so uniquely its own thing, I simply love it as a talisman. At stupid-o-clock in the morning, when I’m stumbling down to the living room with a wide-awake baby, I grab this pen and my pocket notebook and I feel comforted. Read my review.
ASC Gladiatore Medio: this pen had me at “arco”. But it stays in my tray for its smooth and wet nib.
Namiki Urushi 20: this pen suffered most of all from the “save it for best” temptation. Now I’m regularly writing with it again I love it anew. There are many reasons it stays in my tray, from the urushi to the luxurious nib. But deep down it’s a personal tie to Japan for me. Read my review.
Nakaya 17mm Cigar: of course, the Nakaya won its place for its truly sublime urushi, but it has another role to play: for its precise yet bouncy nib, which unlike most of the other nibs I keep has some pencil-like feedback and a drier flow. I pull it out when I really want to take my time, control my letter shapes and see the shading of the ink. Read my review.
Onoto Magna Sequoyah: I remain hugely fond of Onoto, and this pen feels very special to me. I love everything about it, but most of all its long and light hand-feel and wet, agile nib. Read my review.
Lamy 2000 Black Amber: I really like the Black Amber, its subtle colour, its sleek weight, the precise click of its capping action. But it lacks the warmth, tactility and lightness of the normal 2000, and that actually makes it a worse pen. I’m conflicted about whether to sell such a gorgeous limited edition.
Desiderata Soubriquet: I’ve owned several Soubriquets, starting with the wood-sectioned prototype, now retired. This is the latest and last iteration, ne plus ultra, an edition of 29. There’s a lot to love, including an in-house developed piston mechanism, and that gorgeous cocobolo barrel and cap. But somehow it’s lost the rustic charm of the original, and without the wooden section I find the section that bit narrow and slippery for me. I must think more. Read my review of the previous versions.
ST Dupont Elysee: if any of my pens feel like a luxury object, this one does. From the elastic hinge of the clip to the weighty snick of the cap, every touch is perfectly tuned. But: the medium nib is a bit wide for me, not as elegant as the pen it’s attached to. Read my review.
I’ve thought about each of these pens individually. As a collection, I think they say something about me and my tastes.
- Only four real colour spaces: black, silver, blue and red/brown. Apparently I don’t keep green or purple pens.
- Ten piston fillers, two vac, the rest converter. I honestly expected to have fewer C/C fillers…
- Only one nib wider than a medium. I enjoy broad nibs but fine ones always seem to get more use.
- I have my country loyalties. Six pens from Germany, four from Japan, four from Italy — two from the UK. I get different personalities from each nation.
- I love variety in materials. In 19 pens there’s silver, wood, celluloid, plastic. Makrolon, stainless steel, copper, urushi over ebonite, urushi over brass.
- Apparently I am still a gold snob. 15 pens have gold nibs, one palladium.
- Only three are more than a few years old. Many readers have asked why I don’t use or review vintage pens. Honestly, I feel that modern pens will be more robust.
- Nine are numbered limited editions. The biggest edition is probably the Agatha — 20,000? 30,000? The smallest is the Desiderata at 29.
- 12 have screw caps. I have somehow ended up with six pull caps, even though I’m very picky about them.
- Only two are clipless. Funny, considering I never clip pens.
- All but two I bought with my own money for my personal collection. Nobody gets me pens as gifts, and very few review samples stick.
- The average value is somewhere north of £600. Eek.
If you’ve read to the end of this mammoth post? Thank you!